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Tina Fey As Sarah Palin: One of the All-Time Greats In the "SNL" Political Pantheon
October 6, 2008  | By David Bianculli

saturday-night-live-tina-as.jpgShe's only been strutting her stuff on the national stage for a month now, yet she gets more confident, more riveting, and more anticipated with each appearance. She's amazing to watch, and more talked about, right now, than anyone else with whom she's staring the stage.

I'm talking, of course, about Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin -- as played by Tina Fey...

Even though she left Saturday Night Live and launched her own terrific TV series, 30 Rock, Fey was called back into duty because of her uncanny resemblance to Palin. SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels said he didn't cast her, the country did -- and if that's the case, the country has made one brilliant choice already regarding this 2008 presidential campaign.

Fey isn't just good as Sarah Palin, isn't just a passable doppelganger, isn't just a funny mimic. She has distilled and captured the essence of Sarah Palin into comic elements that are both undeniable and unforgettable.

A wink here, a smile there, a pose here, a rambling sentence there, a killer of an accent and an ease with speaking directly to the camera -- Fey, in fewer than a handful of appearances on Saturday Night Live, has added her name to the list of the show's very best political impersonators in the show's 33-year history. And it's an amazing feat, since before September, Fey was best known not for playing any character, but for writing and anchoring "Weekend Update."

But now look. Already, Fey's Sarah Palin deserves to be remembered and revered alongside such memorable Saturday Night Live political players as:

CHEVY CHASE as GERALD FORD -- The first SNL shot at a sitting president, done in 1975 without Chase even bothering to attempt any physical or vocal impersonation. All he did was bumble and stumble and act stupid -- and, in those days, that was enough.


DAN AYKROYD AND JOHN BELUSHI as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger -- When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's The Final Days was published, recounting Nixon's waning moments in the White House, the account of Nixon kneeling with Kissinger was re-enacted by these two SNL buddies in a laceratingly funny, yet sadly surreal, sketch. Aykroyd also gave us a Jimmy Carter with a dazzling smile.

DANA CARVEY as GEORGE H.W. BUSH -- Wouldn't be prudent at this juncture to not mention Carvey's great work as Bush I -- or, for that matter, as H. ROSS PEROT.

JON LOVITZ as MICHAEL DUKAKIS -- It was only one line, during a debate spoof pitting him against Carvey's Bush. But what a line: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy." The entire election campaign, in a one-sentence nutshell.

PHIL HARTMAN as RONALD REAGAN -- This was more than just impersonation. This was fabulous fantasy -- a sketch that imagined Reagan as the affable, genial communicator in public, but a ruthless, take-command Chief Executive behind closed doors. The late Hartman also gets credit for his addled portrayal of Perot's running mate, Admiral James "Why am I here?" Stockdale.

WILL FERRELL as GEORGE W. BUSH -- Jason Sudeikis does Bush II very well, but Ferrell honed in on the frat-boy side of the President -- and nailed it.

DARRELL HAMMOND as BILL CLINTON and DICK CHENEY -- With both, not only are the impersonations uncanny, but there's something extra. For Clinton, Hammond brings a rock star's assurance that a dazzling smile, like the one on Aykroyd's Carter, will forgive anything. And for Cheney, Hammond brings a crooked cartoon-character smile that suggests he doesn't care about being forgiven. Just winning.

Fey, as Palin, belongs with these classic characters. And with NBC launching a month-long series of prime-time SNL specials this Thursday, expect to see more of her, not less, in the weeks remaining until the election.

Sarah Palin can run, but she can't hide. Well, she can try, but Fey will be out there anyway.

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